Kong: Skull Island is the cinematic equivalent of a high-velocity roller-coaster ride. While you’re strapped in, it’ll jack up your pulse rate and make you laugh, scream, squirm, and gasp, then leave you exhausted and exhilarated when it finally screeches to a sudden stop. And then five minutes after leaving the theater, it’ll likely dissolve from your memory quicker than a tasty lick of cotton candy. But, boy, while you’re buckled up it’s an adventure that delivers everything you’d want in an action-packed popcorn flick.
Kong begins in 1944 as two World War II pilots, one American and one Japanese, ditch their planes and parachute onto Skull Island, an uncharted South Pacific Eden “where God did not finish creation.” The two are still trying to kill each other when Kong, all 100 feet of him, suddenly roars into their path and they realize they have a much bigger problem to face than each other. Fast-forward to 1973: A U.S. government-sponsored expedition, with a full military escort, sets off to explore the storm-shrouded island before the Russians do. But their helicopter squadron is met by Kong upon arrival, who swats down the choppers like so many pesky flies. The lucky few who survive include Bill Randa (), an old-school secret operative who is out to prove that monsters exist; Capt. James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a cautious SAS black-ops veteran who is an expert tracker; Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a wartime photojournalist who suspects the Washington brass who approved the expedition are hiding something; and Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), the military head honcho of the mission who doesn’t take kindly to having a gigantic ape wipe out his Sky Devils squadron. However, they soon discover that the mighty Kong is actually the least of their worries, as the jungle-filled island is teeming with even more menacing creatures, including mammoth spiders, lizards, and octopi. There are also the prehistoric predators dubbed “skullcrawlers” by Hank Marlow (scene-stealer John C. Reilly), the crashed American pilot who has been stranded there for nearly three decades, living peacefully among the mostly passive natives in a walled-off section of the island.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) and his team of screenwriters (Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly) go all in on the action, and it rarely lets up. Unfortunately, that means the character development is nonexistent; the film’s cast are mainly there to be eaten, swatted, stomped on, set ablaze, or impaled. As for those who don’t meet a horrific demise, you won’t know much more about them by the end than you did at the beginning of the journey. Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, and Goodman aren’t given much to do other than look frightened and run for their lives, but they go through their paces gamely and energetically, knowing that Kong and the island’s other death traps are the movie’s real stars (all of whom look and sound frighteningly authentic).
If you’re wondering if it’s worth paying for the upgrade to see Kong in IMAX 3-D, the answer is: Yes, yes, yes! Why sit in the back of the roller coaster when you can sit in the front row and get the full impact of the fun-filled terror that awaits you? And be sure to stay through the end credits for a peek at what other horror-inducing monsters Kong may face in a likely sequel, which can’t get here fast enough.